Wednesday, Oct 01, 2014
Local News

House to hold hearing on 'Stand Your Ground'


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TALLAHASSEE - A House subcommittee will look into the state's controversial "stand your ground" law, but its chairman said he doesn't intend to support any changes.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has directed Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chairman Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, to hold a hearing on the law during a committee week this fall.

"Our evaluation of its effectiveness should be guided by objective information, not by political expediency," Weatherford wrote in an opinion piece published Friday in The Tampa Tribune. "Does the law keep the innocent safer? Is it being applied fairly? Are there ways we can make this law clearer and more understandable?"

Gaetz said the hearing will provide a platform for anyone to comment on the law, and members of the subcommittee can offer proposals about the self-defense measure.

Just don't expect him to back any proposed change.

"I don't intend to move one damn comma on the 'stand your ground' law," Gaetz said. "I'm fully supportive of the law as it's written. I think any aberrational circumstances that have resulted are due to errors at the trial court level."

House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who on Thursday formally requested a special session on the state's self-defense laws, would still like a broader review of Florida's criminal-justice laws and policies.

"He's concerned about the size and make-up of juries, especially in felony jury cases, and he would like a legislative review of criminal-justice polices beyond 'stand your ground,' " said Mark Holls, a spokesman for House Democrats.

The prospect of a hearing also hasn't placated the Dream Defenders, a group that has staged a sit-in outside Gov. Rick Scott's Capitol office to demand a special legislative session to consider changes to the state's self-defense laws, initiatives to stop racial profiling and an end to zero-tolerance discipline policies in schools.

"Ultimately you're still ignoring the root of the issue, at least in terms of the Zimmerman verdict, and that is the criminalization of our youth, the way that young people are looked at in Florida, black, white and brown, and that's due to the school-to-prison pipeline and racial profiling that's perpetuated throughout law enforcement," Dream Defenders Political Director Ciara Taylor said.

The protesters were spurred to action by the July 13 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the 2012 shooting of teen Trayvon Martin. The law was not used as part of Zimmerman's defense, but has become associated with the incident.

Weatherford wrote that he requested the hearing because of the "diverse" comments state representatives are receiving about the law.

He had told the Tribune's editorial board on Tuesday that he is willing to consider changes to the 2005 law if law enforcement clearly outlines that any changes are needed.

Gaetz said the format and schedule for the hearing have yet to be set, and he is working on the process with Rep. Kionne McGhee, a Miami Democrat who has served on the subcommittee.

"We'll work out a process to have people come forward and offer testimony he (McGhee) believes will flavor the issue," Gaetz said.

Weatherford's opinion piece comes as the protesters are in their third week in the Capitol and have undertaken their own "people's session" in the lobby of Scott's office, intending to create a report they can give to lawmakers.

"I was not in the Florida Legislature when the ("stand your ground") bill became law with bipartisan support, but as the current speaker of the House, I have been asked to repeal it," Weatherford wrote. " 'Asked' is a generous term considering the threats of boycotts, union-sponsored protesters overtaking the governor's office and Hollywood elites disparaging our state and threatening the livelihood of hard-working Floridians."

Scott and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, the House subcommittee chairman's father, have both maintained their support for the law and have expressed no interest in calling a special session to review it.

Weatherford wrote that he supports the law, stating that it's critical Floridians be allowed to defend themselves.

"Demands for a special session to repeal the law disregard the very foundation of our representative democracy by presuming that a law passed by the majority of a constitutional body should be reversed by the objections of a few," Weatherford wrote.

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